Photo via Jeffrey M Sanders
If there's anything more appalling than massive man-caused environmental catastrophes, it's the ensuing reports on how each one could have been (often rather easily) prevented. In the case of the 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash that spilled out across Tennessee, it turns out the Tennessee Valley Authority had been warned of that exact scenario taking place--by its own employees, and as early as 1985. Oh, and along with this revelation comes the ugly news that after the spill, the TVA had its lawyers cover up a $3 million study that examined the root of the accident's cause. WKTB's report sums it up nicely:
The Tennessee Valley Authority failed for more than 20 years to heed warnings that might have prevented a massive coal ash spill in Tennessee, then allowed its lawyers to stifle a $3 million study into the disaster's cause to limit its legal liability, an inspector general's report said Tuesday.The report came from the TVA Inspector General Richard Moore, who heaped criticism on the massive utility's management:
The inspector general said management's decision to allow TVA's lawyers, the Office of General Counsel, to hire the consultant and narrow his focus for a critical "root cause" study of the disaster "predetermined the choice that would be made between accountability and litigation strategy." "The OGC did what good lawyers do; they defend their client," Moore's report said.As a result, the report reveals that the 'good lawyers' succeeded in stifling the study that would find the TVA liable for its multi-tiered negligence. Instead, the TVA decided to embrace a flimsy study that mitigated PR damage and did little else--with the aid of their vast fleet of lawyers, of course. The Inspector General criticized the previous, lawyer-approved report, for
failing to consider management practices and for giving too much weight to a hard-to-find "slime layer" of watery ash deep below the ash pile as the trigger for the collapse. The slime layer explanation tended to lessen the "culpability" and "legal liability" of TVA management, he wrote.And then there's the fact that if the TVA had been paying attention 20 years ago, they wouldn't be stuck with an environmental catastrophe, a public relations disaster, and a billion dollar clean up effort on their hands. His report reveals that the spill
"could have possibly been prevented" if TVA had heeded concerns about the stability of the Kingston ash pond raised by TVA employees and consultants as early as 1985 and again in 2004.Of course, the TVA paid them no heed, and sure enough--ash spill. Appalling, yes. Surprising? Not so much.
More on the Tennessee Coal Ash Spill
100 Days Since the Ash Spill: Where Are We?
Tennessee Residents Demand Answers from Congress on TVA Coal Ash Spill